When some hear the word procrastination they might automatically think unsuccessful, but when you look deeper into the mind and hearts of a caregiver, procrastination is often the first sign of overwhelm. Sometimes it results from holding onto negative beliefs that make sense at the moment. Yet, it might also be based on fear or lack of knowledge. We have a gift of time that can be taken for granted when the life of a caregiver is overrun with "must do" or "have to" or even "I should have" statements.
Being able to acknowledge the difference between not knowing how to do something versus not wanting to do something is a start. Procrastination can simply be our subconscious mind harboring inner parts that are not ready or willing to be in the present moment or face emotional challenges. I found this out myself when I stepped into Mom's world of dementia, saying, "I don't have the time for this!" Whatever "this" was back then, I now can say my heart was really saying, "this hurts, and I do not know how to cope with it…."
I asked my next guest, an Occupational Therapist and founder of Finding a Foothold to join me today to hash out the reasons behind procrastination. Consuela Marshall currently resides in Louisiana as a graduate of Louisiana State University Medical Center, under the School of Allied Health in New Orleans. Consuela has been an occupational therapist for the past 27 years under inpatient rehab, skilled nursing care, and now predominantly in-home health care.
Thanks to her years of experience and training, Consuela now develops plans of care to aid rehabilitation for those sustaining physical losses after injury, illness, surgery, or various diagnoses. Much of this experience was first-hand knowledge gained as a caregiver to her mother, who had several strokes, and an aunt who lived with Alzheimer's. Because of this experience, Consuela can relate to both the caregiver duties and the emotional side.
She will be the first to admit that school did not prepare her for the toll that caregiving takes on an individual, so Consuela recognized the need for creating solid foundations. As the founder of Finding A Foothold Coaching and Consulting Services in 2021, Consuela can now teach caregivers and caregiving organizations how to widen the scope of setting boundaries, vital self-care approaches, and creating successful caregiving plans. All are done to develop positive caregiving environments and stop caregiver procrastination.
In a past moment of procrastination, it seemed to be a strategy to avoid a micro-managing boss, but avoidance did not make the tasks at hand any easier to handle. During Mom's early years of care, she taught me to pick my battles. I gradually understood the difference between giving up and simply finding a new approach. Even when I wanted to give up and step away from her care because of her lack of passion for life, I knew giving up on her was not the best way to face my caregiving journey. I was confused by trying to convince myself that I was not a quitter over showing myself compassion to figure out WHY I was procrastinating in the first place.
I now believe that caregivers are faced with opportunities to address situations they may have run from as a child or young adult. These are the moments when God is trying to work through you in your life to help others but is repelled by your subconscious efforts to avoid emotional challenges. We each have a story we tell ourselves to sleep at night, and then there is His version of the story. The true story of every person in this world is not the story you see, the external story. The true story is what lies in each person's heart.
When we are driven by passion and purpose, there is no stopping us from making and achieving our goals. When this passion is overrun by fear and overwhelm, we find ways to convince ourselves it's not meant to be or it can happen later. Caregivers fight to keep their journeys lighthearted or approach situations with their whole hearts in the first place. We can easily convince ourselves to avoid heartache by saving our To-Do list for tomorrow, next week, or next season. Then our reason to procrastinate is justified by our need to care for our loved ones.
The scary thing is procrastination of doing something like starting a 401K, creating estate plans, or even planning a vacation only end up hurting us rather than helping us by putting off what we can do today. Procrastination is made most apparent when we put off self-care and find ourselves in an emergency room. Waiting for a valid reason to jumpstart an exercise program or change your eating habits because the care of your loved one takes precedents starts to become excuses that justify our procrastination.
I kept saying I did not have time to exercise and even became resentful of Mom for refusing to join me on a walk so we could both get exercise. When it came down to the facts, I had the time but used Mom as my reason not to commit until I needed the activity to help manage pain. Ironically, when I prayed for strength and guidance, God began to place those in my life that helped point out the areas behind my subconscious procrastination. He then started to show me my story from His perspective to stop telling myself a narrative of victimhood and finally become the victor of my story.
There is a time and a place for various areas in our life. When we step into the role of caregiver, the time and location change, and our story is no longer about us. Our story evolves so that we begin to connect with others, help others, love others in new ways. The need to procrastinate happens because we dread emotional distress. Saying "I can't deal with this right now" is a form of self-compassion. When 'right now' becomes an empty promise to handle it later then recognize this code language as avoidance and no longer self-compassion.
If you can begin to call out a moment of avoidance, then you can start to shift your mindset from the dreaded "I have to" statement to "I know I need to, but right now, it makes me nervous." Then you can take it a step further by asking yourself, "Why does facing this moment or task make me so anxious or nervous?" When you begin to discover the "Why" behind your procrastination, you can learn "How" to accomplish your goals.
Procrastination is also a crutch for those like me when perfectionism plays a part. If you don't believe you can do something perfectly, you might feel anxious and put more daily tasks off. One area I had to accept years ago was the denial of perfectionism. I was distracted easily, struggled to concentrate on something my heart was not in, and became hyper-focused on other matters that aided my excuses for not addressing pressing issues. When I made a list of all that needed to be done for Mom, I felt organized. Once I was done checking off all the simple items that were not emotionally involved, I began to procrastinate to avoid feelings of heartache, rejection, and retaliation.
Breaking bad habits of procrastination may be more than facing your fears. You may not even realize you are stuck in a loop of procrastination until your relationships suffer. Still, you may find other reasons or even people to blame before you can own up to a process of procrastination. By pinpointing the specific emotions driving procrastination, you will find effective coping strategies.
You might be procrastinating if:
1. You have hard time meeting deadlines or find yourself regularly saying, "I'll do it tomorrow."
2. We only have so many hours a day to be productive, and the rest should be trying to achieve restorative sleep. Are you finding yourself putting multiple areas of life off, not just work but also home and friends? Make time to reflect on why you are procrastinating.
3. Putting off until tomorrow becomes next season. Pushing it further to create more distance from whomever or whatever you are procrastinating needs a deep therapeutic dive.
4. Find yourself overgeneralizing by becoming self-deprecating has you thinking more negatively.
5. Worry you might make a mistake by discounting positive feedback. It may even sound like "You are doing such a great job for your loved one," yet your response is one of luck or happenstance.
6. You might be mentally filtering or catastrophizing by making the worse out of situations or only focusing on the bad over the potential high notes to convince yourself to wait longer.
7. You might be able to begin a task but cannot complete tasks affecting performance at school or work.
8. You challenge yourself to complete a task, but it feels like punishment rather than reward. Not being able to see the goal through to completion and the benefits that goal brings might mean you set an unrealistic goal in the first place, not that you are incapable of completing objectives.
9. You become easily bored or struggle with concentration.
10. You are experiencing personal problems (during caregiving or otherwise) that exhaust your emotional well towards being productive.
You can learn to procrastinate less by:
1. Break goals down into smaller steps and smaller time intervals like 15-20 minutes.
2. Fill your day with low-priority tasks or start your day with a high-priority task to allow for mental breaks during the day.
3. Read emails or To-Do lists several times to better understand what requests are low or high priority but do not make any decisions right away. Simply let the details sink in.
4. Reward yourself with a treat, step away for a cup of tea, or pat yourself on the back as you check off the smaller steps on your To-Do list.
5. Find an accountability buddy to work with you to check in on designated time checks to ensure you are still on task or have not given up on yourself.
6. If you don't have a friend or accountability buddy, use a task-and-time management app to help track your progress.
7. Make time for therapy to understand underlying emotional mental blockages.
Thank you for joining in and listening today. I hope this episode gave you more food for thought. Until next time, BE PROACTIVE. Take care, everybody.